Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the debates around its growing capability and uses, seems to be a very 2023 conversation, and yet the seventh Mission: Impossible entry, which has been in development for a number of years, puts the idea front and centre in a sprawling, globe-traversing story, that will come to a conclusion with a second part, to be released next year.
After a prologue in which a Russian submarine is sunk by its own torpedo, after firing at a ghost enemy, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked with retrieving half of a key from Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who now has a bounty on her head. Back in the US a meeting of senior intelligence and defence officials, including former IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) discuss an experimental AI known as the Entity. Designed to infiltrate and disable enemy systems, it expanded and went rogue, and is now sentient. The world’s major powers are now racing to get control of it, believing the two halves of the key to be the means through which to do this.
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Understanding, however, that the Entity poses a threat to humanity, Ethan, and his team Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) work, instead to destroy it. Travelling to Abi Dhabi airport to intercept the other half of the key, Ethan gets caught up with professional thief Grace (Hayley Atwell) who is looking to make money through its acquisition. Ethan also spots Gabriel (Esai Morales), an assassin working for the Entity, and a figure key to Ethan’s entry to the IMF three decades previously. Gabriel had killed a woman close to Ethan at that time, and for reasons not yet known this led Ethan to the IMF; we shall learn more in time, but at this point it is clear the film is suggesting that women who get close to him end up dying.
By way of Rome, Venice, and the Orient Express, where the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) will act as a broker for the united halves of the key, the team work to get hold of it, find out what exactly it unlocks. All the while Ethan needs to keep his personal feelings in check, as he is warned that the Entity’s precognition will work to have him and Gabriel trying to kill each other, as Ethan is the only person who wants it destroyed, whilst Gabriel is the only person with knowledge of what the key unlocks. The Entity is now smart enough to protect its own existence.
When trailers for this film dropped there was a feeling that we might be starting to rinse and repeat. Some of the car chases therein looked so close to those seen in 2018’s Fallout. With the White Widow returning and Lorne Balfe back on scoring duties, would the series start to run on fumes? Certainly the last three instalments have each featured at least one stunt that looked to push the envelope. Ghost Protocol was probably the most jaw-dropping example, with its extraordinary use of the Burj Khalifa. Rogue Nation saw Cruise hang from the side of a plane as it took off, while the last entry saw the halo jump. Nothing in Dead Reckoning Part One tops this. The much-touted jump from the mountain on a bike is impressive and vertigo-inducing but shot from above does not really have the wow factor we got the last few times. In some respects, this is a good thing, as trying to top the last time every time out can lead to some very silly places.
One final negative is that despite Rogue Nation having the most Bond-like feel, with its opera set-piece, complete with dresses and dinner jackets, lush Joe Kraemer score, and bright colourful cinematography, this entry feels more like it is borrowing from the senior franchise. There are many examples through the film’s running time, but the small yellow car is the most obvious, as fans with think immediately of For Your Eyes Only. Married to some of the weakest dialogue we’ve have had since Orci and Kurtzman were writing for the series, and it is fair to say this is not a perfect film. It is also a little too long, despite only sagging in a couple of places.
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This is, however, because the bar has been set so high. This is not as good as the last entry, and it is debatable whether it bests the fifth. It probably beats out four, and then we really have only the first to consider, and this is too different a beast to the series origins to compare directly. Whereas the score was percussive in Fallout, here it is more foreboding. Whilst not as lush to look at as the fifth film, Fraser Taggart’s cinematography is not as gritty and washed-out as Rob Hardy’s was last time. In execution the set pieces do feel unique to this film, with the full film not evoking the Paris chases at all. Rome and Venice are both used inventively, and, despite it being a new plot contrivance, Cruise does take on-board the Hunt backstory and add emotional heft.
There are very few film series in history in which the (debatably) second-to-fourth strongest entry can be raved about to this degree. This is not the MI series’ strongest film, but it is powerful engaging, fun – yes, the face masks are even back in this entry – and everything a fun spy caper should be. The world is changing, not just in terms of AI, but also in terms of pain and introspection starting to feel played out in the summer blockbuster. This is how you do emotional stakes without making audiences depressed. A fantastic piece of work, and evidence this series can run at least as long as Tom Cruise’s body holds up.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is out now in cinemas.